Using ARPA Funds for Community Needs
August 8, 2022
By Julia Bauer, Research Specialist at the National League of Cities
In March 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law. One element of this unprecedented outflow of federal funds is the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF), which included $350 billion of pandemic relief funds for state and local governments– of which $130 billion was equally divided between cities and counties.
Now that local governments of all sizes have received their SLFRF allocations, there’s growing interest in how municipalities are spending these funds. This interest led to the creation of the Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker, a joint project with National League of Cities (NLC)—which had long lobbied for this federal funding— along with Brookings Metro and the National Association of Counties (NACo).
The tracker currently houses SLFRF data for over 325 large local governments across the US. Additionally, it helps those who are curious about where the money is going by disaggregating SLFRF funding into 7 main categories (like infrastructure, government operation investments, and housing) and 41 subgroups (including small business support, rental assistance, and government employee wages or hiring).
The tracker consists of plans from 89 cities or consolidated city-counties, representing over 1490 projects planned and $14.5 billion budgeted, or nearly 55 percent of their total SLFRF allocations. The data provided in the investment tracker has made it possible for the NLC to engage in a variety of projects delving into how cities are spending these funds to help their communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, including research on public sector workforce development, infrastructure investments, and more.
How Cities Are Allocating ARPA Funds to Address Community Needs
In addition to helping local governments recover from the pandemic, the Biden Administration and the Treasury emphasized the need to use ARPA funds to address longstanding social inequalities that the pandemic revealed and exacerbated. NLC researchers, including Nya Anthony, Louisa Sholar, Lindsey Volz and I, reviewed projects to understand how cities are using funds to address these longstanding needs. Across the cities in the tracker, 55 percent of them (49 cities) allocated nearly 7 percent ($935 million) of budgeted funds to 239 community aid projects.
Of projects classified as community aid, cities allocated funds across seven main subgroups, including youth and family support (41%, $244 million), nutrition and food assistance (20%, $118 million), arts and culture (16%, $96 million), direct payments or subsidies (14%, $84 million), nonprofit support (8%, $51 million), veterans (1%, $5 million), and refugees and migration (1%, $4 million).
These community aid programs are allowing cities to meet funding gaps caused by the pandemic in addition to finding creative ways to address longstanding issues, like food insecurity and nutrition assistance. In 2020, 13.8 million US households were food insecure. Food access and stability often disproportionately impacts single-parent, low-income, and/or Black and Hispanic households and can lead to negative health and social outcomes. Although food security is a multi-sector issue, cities play a key role in ensuring resources are available for residents in need, especially as local zoning ordinances often impact food access. Cities across the US saw the need to address food access in their communities, with almost half of cities that invested in community aid also allocating funds to 44 nutrition and food assistance projects.
These projects added up to over $118 million in SLFRF budgeted and ranged in service type and program goal. For example, Buffalo, NY allocated $1.5 million to a creative, long-term program that will address food needs for low-income or food insecure residents.
The program supports food preparation programming, food delivery, and wellness education. A third of the funds will be used to purchase and maintain established community gardens that have proved useful for residents, thus creating the nation’s first community garden land trust. The remaining funds will go towards purchasing electric vehicles for local organizations that deliver to food insecure older residents, cooking programs for low-income residents, and resident-informed programming for individuals who are food insecure.
Seattle, WA allocated almost $700,000 in funds to Good Food Kitchen, a local food assistance and economic development program. Good Food Kitchen supports low-income, primarily Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community members by providing them with culturally appropriate food from local BIPOC-owned restaurants. In 2021 alone, the organization partnered with 25 restaurants to create over 10,000 meals for residents in need. Their 2022 goal is delivering at least 75,000 meals to residents in need. By supporting this program, the city of Seattle is not only providing necessary resources to individuals experiencing food insecurity, but also assisting local BIPOC owned businesses.
As cities continue to budget their funds, there is a local and national priority in developing projects that assist communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic while addressing historic adversities caused by local governments. The selection of these kinds of projects has been bolstered in many localities by the development of equity measures in their project development plans. With these plans in hand, as cities continue to allocate more money, it appears likely that this trend will continue.
The contents of this blog post reflect those of the author, and not necessarily those of the GFRC.